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Tuesday, 23 August, 2011, 3:17 ( 1:17 GMT )
Renewable Energy is a Win-win Situation for Everyone, Says CEO of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII)
25/10/2010 19:40:00
Photo: Paul van Son

Paul van Son, CEO of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) made his first brief visit to Libya last week where he met with various Libyan officials and institutions.

His main objective of the visit was to explore the extent the Libyans are familiar with the idea of renewable energy and in particular solar energy, especially as Libya is considered by experts to be one of the most rich of solar energy in the world.

Mr. Son seems to have realized that the Libyans are well aware of renewable energy and have a decent number of experts in the field.

Libya he said has a program for renewable energy and there is enthusiasm that he did not expect before making his visit.

Paul van Son, CEO of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) made his first brief visit to Libya last week where he met with various Libyan officials and institutions. His main objective of the visit was to explore the extent the Libyans are familiar with the idea of renewable energy and in particular solar energy, especially as Libya is considered by experts to be one of the most rich of solar energy in the world. Mr. Son seems to have realized that the Libyans are well aware of renewable energy and have a decent of number of experts in the field. Libya he said has a program for renewable energy and there is enthusiasm that he did not expect before making his visit. During 2008/2009 Mr van Son was an active Member of the Board of Econcern, Nl (renewable energy and energy efficiency). In 2009 Mr van Son was appointed CEO of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) with a mission of developing substantial amounts of renewable energy from the deserts.

The Tripoli Post's Managing Editor, Sarah Kabar, met Mr. Paul van Son in Tripoli, Libya on Wednesday and asked him a number of questions. Here are excerpts of that interview:

Tripoli Post: Can you explain, to the readers of the Tripoli Post, what exactly Desertec's initiative is?
Paul: Well, the desertec idea, the vision, is to make use of solar and wind power from deserts, where nobody is living, and to make that available as electrical power to local people and local markets - and also, if possible, export this to Europe.

Tripoli Post: You have only been in Libya two days. What have you been doing?
Paul: We have been in talks and meetings with Libyan officials. I wanted to listen to Libya's wishes; what do people like? If I hear that the people of Libya say "no, we don't like this" then we don't do it. Why should we? But Libya is much more positive than I expected.

Tripoli Post: Who have you met in Libya so far?
Paul: I met with your Secretary of the General People's Committee for Finance & Planning, Mr. Abdul Hafidh al-Zlitini, and briefly with the Secretary of minister of industry, Trade and Economy Mr. Mohammed Hawaij. Also yesterday I had a presentation with engineer Mohammed Mousa, chairman of the Renewable Energy Authority of Libya. I've met with the executives of this authority several times. I actually met a lot of German companies that are active in Libya. The German embassy organized a sort of get-together where we exchanged views on the desertec initiative, what these companies are doing and how they can work with us. Aside from that, there was a whole bunch of people from all over the place; different ministries, different companies. There was a very lively discussion and exchange, with good questions being asked.

Tripoli Post: What have their reactions been to your initiative?
Paul: Initially, they were confused; 400 billion euro investments, that kind of thing. So, we explained that this is not going that way. What we do is to pave the way, to prepare a lot of potential investments in all these North African and Middle Eastern countries. We not only create the generating facilities, photovoltaics, thermal and wind power plants… but also the interaction or integration to the electrical grids, and the connection to Europe.

Tripoli Post: Can we talk about reaching an agreement of any sort with Libyan officials?
Paul: We have the verbal agreement to set up a sort of workshop together, organized by the Renewable Energy Authority, and maybe some other institutes or authorities, to really identify the needs and wishes of Libya. Also to explain to them how we can over time work out something together. In general, the initiative first makes an analysis of all the concerned countries; what is their situation, what are their plans for the future, what is the development of the population. Population growth, economy growth, growth of demand. Also look into current government policies about their own electrical supply… We try to have a good overview of what we will do up to 2050, so we can know what kind of infrastructure is needed.
The other side of what we are doing is trying to make it visible and applicable and make it work. If we build at least some photovoltaic, concentrated solar and wind power stations, you can see that together in the electrical grid, we have to make it work, too. Not only does it work, but we see how it can be financed and the cost of it can be brought down. At this moment, the costs of renewable energy are much too high, and our aim is to bring it down.

Tripoli Post: The initiative started as a sort of unilateral idea or scheme. How are you going to persuade the people that own this "raw material" to be on board with this project?
Paul: I think this is the most important thing. The countries here are the owners of the energy. First of all, we explain to them what we can do with this energy; they know it partly, but they are puzzled. We also explain to them that it's a sort of combination of European companies with knowledge and expertise and manufacturing facilities to exploit this energy for the local consumption. And then, if they like, for export. Most countries similar to Libya are in the first place very aware of what it means to export energy, and now they have a new component for the future which is electricity.

Tripoli Post: So are you saying that the first beneficiaries will be the local people?
Paul: Of course. I think it should be both ways, it's a two way street. What we have in mind is a win-win situation for everyone.

Tripoli Post: Transfer of technology and know how, as well as creating skilled jobs for Libyan people, is very important. What are your plans for that?
Paul: One of the elements of our approach is not to just build power stations or electrical grid and leave. We look at all the elements like assets, sales of electrical power locally and in Europe, the financing aspect. Also the socio-economic aspects such as labour forces//labour, courses and knowledge transfer. More and more are manufacturing locally. My idea is that Libya, in the long term, has the potential to deliver technology and electricity to the rest of Africa.

Tripoli Post: France is working on a similar project to Desertec.
Paul: You mean Transgreen? Transgreen is an electrical grid of transmission lines, which is very complimentary to us because the Desertec initiative is focusing on generation facilities. We need the grid extensions, so if France wants to do this then we can work together. Personally, I know the executives very well; I have worked with them in Paris.

Tripoli Post: So you are two different, yet complimentary companies?
Paul: Well actually, they want to copy our structure. But we said we'd work together; there's so much work to do.

Tripoli Post: The concept has been criticized in the past...
Paul: And will be in the future!

Tripoli Post: One of these criticisms is that the initiative is a new form of neo-economic imperialism.
Paul: First of all, we do not take anything away. That was the old, colonialist style. It is electrical power; if you don't use it, it will be lost. I was in Morocco and a diplomat told me it was an offence to him that Westerners still think that they could be neo-colonialists. Those times are over. It was also confirmed to me today in the meetings. Libya is very self-conscious. Your country would never allow any more western industries to colonialize it. I cannot imagine it. There is no way of colonialism. Nothing will happen if a country doesn't like it.

Tripoli Post: How will Libya be affected by this project, not only economically and ecologically but culturally as well?
Paul: I think Libya will be affected in all aspects because if Libya takes its chances with this project, the opportunities that will be created will cause many clean, eco-friendly jobs to become available in the economy due to the clean energy. And as I said Libya could, if it follows through with this project, position itself as a knowledge center, financial provider and role model for the rest of Africa. I hear people talking about this. These will most likely change the country culturally; Libya could become a central hub for future exchanges and in the long term from oil and natural gas dependency, with all its volatility and uncertainties, to more stable solar and wind energy sources. Actually I think the major advantages of these energies are that, from the point of view of business and revenues, it will be very predictable. The sun will be there every year and wind has very few fluctuations over the year, so the revenues will be result as expected. This could cause the economy to stabilize, being based on clean technology and energy. You could create jobs, you could become an exporter of energy to Europe and an exporter of technology to Africa. So this will have a cultural impact as well.

Tripoli Post: Do you not see any negative repercussions then?
Paul: Well more or less, in the long run you're going to have to say farewell to the old way of doing things. I don't know if this is truly negative, but rather something you have to be aware of.

Tripoli Post: Yes, you'll find that most Libyans will be averse to the idea of letting go of their traditions.
Paul: It's always difficult to change in life but I don't think it's negative, I think it's difficult.

Tripoli Post: What are the difficulties you have come up against?
Paul: It is always difficult to start up a new development, also from our point of view, we are still very small and it's a very large area. This is a huge task and we have to mobilize all of our forces. As a matter of fact, criticism is not the main contributor of difficulty but rather the mobilization of all of our forces. All the companies that work with us want to do this and are very positive but when it comes to putting money on the table it is a difficult task to make them commit.

Tripoli Post: You were appointed in 2009 as CEO, correct?
Paul: Almost a year ago, in November.

Tripoli Post: What has the company achieved since then?
Paul: The concept was announced in July, and then they took about five months to create the company. I was the first person they hired. I then built up a team of about 25 people, and attracted new shareholders and 32 partner companies. I wanted to create a big network, and also create money to do our work.

Tripoli Post: The Desertec Foundation is a non-profit organization, correct?
Paul: Yes the Foundation is non profit, but we [Dii] are commercial. But we do not make a profit as such. In the first years you have to prepare because it costs a lot of money. We will not make profit in the first three years.

Tripoli Post: How much money will the project cost?
Paul: All these preparations cost a couple of million per year, but we prepare for potential investments; our shareholders could be investors, or our partners, but also from outside of the company.
This article has ( 2 ) Comment(s)
Name: Kim
Date: 23/12/2010 06:29:26
Comment:
Reference article
Name: Fitourie Jdeir
Date: 26/01/2011 09:15:14
Comment:
The desertec initiative could be the last hope for Libyans to be still there when Oil is not.
 
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